Recently, H&M came under a social media firestorm about the child model who was wearing a sweatshirt that had the slogan, "Coolest Monkey." This child model happened to be black and this led to a huge controversy. There was one side deeply offended by the brand's action of using a black child model to wear a "Coolest Monkey" sweatshirt.
And there was the other side that argued this was a race issue because there would not be a reaction if it was white child model wearing that sweater with the same slogan. Both sides have valid points. I want to break them down because whether you have picked a side or have no set opinion; it is important to understand why people reacted in this way and how social media was utilized.
Now, I am going to begin with why many people had an issue with the term "Coolest Monkey" on the black child model's sweatshirt. The word monkey or terms like ape or gorilla were used at one point in time as defamatory terms against people of color, mainly African-Americans. Monkey is a term used to categorize certain people as uncivilized and less than human.
It is not a prevalent issue like before in the era of Jim Crow and even before that. However, it was not too long ago when even former first lady Michelle Obama was called "an ape in heels." H&M may not have had malicious intentions when they decided to use this type of branding. However, we have to acknowledge the reason why there is a backlash.
The reaction is valid given what the word is rooted in. But the reaction on social media blew the situation way out of context. It became a vicious attack with a lot of contempt and hate. People were attacking instead of educating. H&M should have been more aware when they created this specific marketing ploy. The response should have touched base on why it is not OK to still use this terminology. But social media allowed for it to spiral out of control, causing the sites to become hostile territory.
The "Coolest Monkey" issue was blown out of portion and became something it was not. This something we can all learn from. We need to not attack things we disagree with or things that offend us, even though it might be our first instinct. We need to take a step back and explain why we have an issue because sometimes it is as easy as educating someone to prevent misunderstanding and ignorance.